India is one of the largest consumers of sugar, with total market volumes reaching almost 35 million tonnes in 2015, according to Mintel research. Low-calorie sweeteners account for less than 1% of retail volume sales and this share has been declining.

Likely reasons for this include the perception that sweeteners are for diabetics, concerns about the taste of sweeteners, and a lack of understanding how to use the product. Changing these consumer perceptions can go a long way in increasing sweetener use in the country.

Zydus Wellness, for instance, launched an ad campaign this year for its low-calorie sweetener brand Sugar Free that came in the form of a five-part web series titled, “The Sweet Breakup”. The campaign showcased how local speciality desserts and sweets can be made using Sugar Free instead of sugar, with the aim to educate consumers that the use of sweeteners does not necessarily compromise on taste.

Expanding beyond diabetics

India reportedly has the second largest population of diabetics in the world, after China, and diabetics tend to be the largest audience for low-calorie sweeteners. This growing usage opens the doors for greater positioning for sweeteners as a functional product in terms of addressing other lifestyle diseases, such as obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Oversight of these conditions primarily includes weight management and most consumers who are looking to lose weight are advised to reduce their sugar consumption. Highlighting how sweeteners can keep taste mostly intact and aid in weight loss could encourage Indian consumers to make the switch.

There is long-term potential for non-diabetic consumers to overtake diabetics in terms of sweetener sales. According to Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD), an equal share of sweeteners in India carried the ‘slimming’ and ‘suitable for diabetics’ claims during the four years to September 2017, indicating that weight loss is an opportunity that sweeteners can further leverage.

Educating consumers on sweetener usage

A challenge for sweeteners in India is simply the fact that consumers do not know how to use the product. People unfamiliar with sweeteners, which carry a more intense flavour than regular sugar, sometimes use it in the same amount as they would sugar, which can significantly impact taste, and ultimately consumer perception.

Consumers may be familiar with products such as tabletop sweeteners, but lack the experience of incorporating them into cooking. Education on sweetener use can go a long way in preparing Indian consumers for the slight differences in taste and mouthfeel compared to sugar, and in turn convince them to increase sweetener uptake. There is scope for sweetener brands to include more obvious messaging on pack to reinforce the know-hows behind using sweeteners. Easy-to-use formats such as pellets and measured dose drops can also drive tabletop consumption.

Showcasing the various ways in which sweeteners can be used—functional or taste enhancing—highlights opportunities for brands to spread the message that reducing sugar intake does not have to be a reactive step in the face of lifestyle diseases, but rather a proactive step towards a healthier lifestyle.

Ranjana Sundaresan is a Food & Drink Analyst at Mintel based in the India office, and has been with the company since 2011. She currently specialises in analysing global consumer trends with an Indian focus in the Food and Drink sector—as well as global trend observations as part of Mintel’s Trends team.

 

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